Award-winning investigative reporter, foreign correspondent, and author of The Underground Girls of Kabul
Photo credit: Anna Schori
About Jenny Nordberg
An award-winning journalist and foreign correspondent, columnist and television producer, Jenny Nordberg has worked all over the world, investigating topics such as the global financial crisis, nuclear proliferation, foreign aid, human trafficking, and aspects of “the war on terror,” as well as many human rights issues.
In 2010, she found, researched and broke the story of “bacha posh“–how girls grow up disguised as boys in gender-segregated Afghanistan– to a global audience. The Page One story was published in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune. The practice, which had never been previously documented, offers new and previously unknown details about Afghanistan and the inner workings of the deeply conservative society where the United States has fought its longest war.
Nordberg’s original research for The New York Times was used for opinion pieces around the world and inspired many works of fiction, including stage plays and novels.
Following her extensive research and reporting inside a war zone, The Underground Girls of Kabul, published in more than 10 countries by 2015, reveals entirely new aspects of the practice and goes deep into gender segregation and resistance among women in Afghanistan, as well as globally. Five years in the making, this cross-border investigation is described by Publisher’s Weekly as “one of the most convincing portraits of Afghan culture in print.” The book raises new and profound questions about gender in children and adolescents, nurture versus nature, religion, sexuality, and of what roles women play in war. It is also a universal story of freedom, with parallels to our own history of racism, sexism and ethnic and religious oppression, and what humans are prepared to do in order to escape it.
Jenny Nordberg is also developing bachaposh.com as an online resource for girls who have grown up as boys due to segregation.
Together with The Times‘ investigative unit, Nordberg previously worked on projects such as an examination of the American freight railroad system; a series that won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, and U.S. efforts at exporting democracy to Haiti. She has also produced and written several documentaries for American television.
In Sweden, Nordberg was a member of the first investigative team at Swedish Broadcasting’s national radio division, where she supervised projects on terrorism and politics. Nordberg has won awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors, The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Föreningen Grävande Journalister.
Jenny Nordberg holds a B.A. in Law and Journalism from Stockholm University, and an M.A. from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
The Underground Girls of Kabul: One Woman’s Search for a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan
In this talk, Jenny Nordberg tells the unlikely story of how she first discovered that Afghan girls and women disguise themselves as boys and men in one of the most secretive, closed nations on earth. The story follows her work to find, document and win the confidences of Afghan women and girls who eventually decide to speak openly about sexuality, religion and society in the war-ravaged country named the world’s worst place to be born a girl. She will speak of working independently against the self-appointed “experts” on Afghanistan, who at first refused to believe that such a custom could exist. Her talk will also raise questions on what else we may be missing in our quest to understand and help not only Afghan women, but what challenges remain for girls and women in other conservative societies.
One of the Boys: What Women Do to Get Access from Afghanistan to Wall Street
Many women throughout history who wanted to get an education, become doctors, or just to escape forced marriages have done so in pants and a short haircut – in impossible societies, some women have chosen to become men. Jenny Nordberg will discuss how strict gender norms for women, in dress, behavior and speech have pervaded throughout our own history, as they still do in Afghanistan today. As a consequence, women who want to break in to traditionally “male” fields, such as finance, the military and law, often still choose to adopt a more masculine persona even in the Western world, in order to be respected and to be taken more seriously. The raw roots of patriarchy, as seen in countries like Afghanistan, can still be traced into our boardrooms and even in college culture, where women are required to “pass” as one of the boys in order to be listened to. Drawing on her own experience as a war correspondent, Jenny Nordberg will pose thought-provoking but empowering questions on how far we’ve come, and what we have yet to do in the struggle for equality, in hopes of a future where women will not need to become one of the boys to get access to all areas of life.
Praise for Jenny Nordberg
We had approximately 200 faculty, students, and guests come to the lecture with Jenny. She was a wonderful storyteller and engaged with the audience during the Q&A. Many people stayed to have the booked signed and take photos with her. She was a great addition to our program.— Ocean County College
Jenny’s talk was absolutely wonderful! We had an audience of about 200 people… and you could tell by the questions that were asked and book selling/signing after the talk that the audience was impressed with her research, her uncovering of the bacha posh tradition, and her knowledge of Afghanistan. Several of the faculty in Women’s Studies courses and Political Science courses said that their students discussed the talk in their class the next day—the students were clearly engaged in critical thinking about this global issue.— Montgomery College
What a great experience working with Jenny Nordberg! She attracted an audience of 400 students, faculty, and community members, in spite of the bitterly cold night. Some were familiar with her articles and book on Afghanistan, and others were not. All listened intently as she described the complex, intriguing and often disturbing situation for girls and women in Afghanistan. Then she patiently answered questions from the audience, and continued the discussion through the book signing and reception. Even though the subject was difficult, she handled everything with a great deal of humanity and humor, explaining clearly her own struggles understanding this subject.
And she was definitely a favorite with the students – answering questions over dinner and at the reception about her career path and graduate school experience, what it would be like for them to study abroad, and her own experience working in NYC and traveling to places like Afghanistan for her work. They really enjoyed the group photo session, and that she made sure everyone got a picture with her. All of the students would all agree with the community member who said as he walked out of the book signing ‘You have a real winner with this one!— Iowa State University
Praise for The Underground Girls of Kabul
The Underground Girls of Kabul is a brilliant, urgent, groundbreaking work. It is a call to action, and a reminder that even under the greatest abuses of power women have found ways to fight and flourish. The inspiring story of the bacha posh is not just a tale of ingenuity and survival in Afghanistan. It is an excavation of the deep and insidious roots of global misogyny, and an offering of hope.— Cara Hoffman, author of Be Safe I Love You
Through extensive interviews with former bacha posh, observation of present ones and conversations with doctors and teachers, Nordberg unearths details of a dynamic that one suspects will be news to the armies of aid workers and gender experts in post-invasion Afghanistan.— New York Times Book Review
Five years of research, and an almost novelistic approach to her findings, has produced a book full of fresh stories.— Independent
This powerful account of powerlessness resonates with the most silenced voices in society.— The Guardian
[A] gritty, poignant, and provocative collage of intimate portraits.— Elle US
Books by Jenny Nordberg
Media About Jenny Nordberg
The Christian Science Monitor: “Jenny Nordberg, author of ‘The Underground Girls of Kabul,’ talks about Afghan girls who pose as boys”
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- Jenny Nordberg travels from New York, NY
The Underground Girls of Kabul
“…Nordberg has produced a striking and nuanced work that explores the current status of Afghan women through one of their subcultures. The Underground Girls of Kabul does not seek out the stereo-typically oppressed, burka-clad woman in need of a savior, but rather shows Afghan women as active agents navigating a culture that often disadvantages them and making the most of their limited options for freedom and autonomy.”-The Washington Post